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TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
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WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
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WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
This article defines and explains the disposition of greywater, a type of wastewater. Greywater is wastewater which does not contain sewage, typically coming from building sinks, showers, and laundry facilities. Graywater systems can reduce the load on or size of a septic system, and gray water separation, filtration, storage, and piping systems can conserve water, for recycling for various uses such as flushing toilets, landscaping, or irrigation.
This article describes alternative graywater systems and designs, lists gray water (or grey water) products and suppliers, and compares products, models, and features.
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In addition to explaining graywater systems we list and compare other sources of water for use on lawns, gardens, orchards, or for purification as drinking water. We also include links to greywater system references and books. Shown at page top is a clean design for onsite greywater disposal using a sketch from Clivus Multrum (see links below). At left is a sketch of a typical graywater filter.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Other greywater systems include incineration and alternative greywater disposal methods. The EcoJohn Jr. shown below at our list of product sources uses a low-flush toilet (not a waterless toilet). This particular toilet is an incinerating unit not a composting toilet.
People who want to construct a greywater system should also see the greywater design books listed below at References. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers welcomed and are also listed and cited.
Definition of Greywater or Graywater: greywater is defined as the liquid wastewater from buildings that excludes septage, that is toilets. So water from a laundry, sink, bathtub, or even a shower all are considered graywater waste.
Definition of Blackwater: blackwater is defined as building wastewater that includes sewage (waste from toilets). Note that if your building drains mix water from sinks, bathtubs, showers, etc. into a common drain with toilet waste (sewage, fecal waste), then all of that water becomes "blackwater" as it leaves the building.
Definition of Greywater Systems: "Greywater Septic Systems" refer to onsite wastewater systems which reduce the liquid effluent load on a septic system by separating greywater (or graywater) from sinks and showers from blackwater (black water from toilets.
When we inspect a home which uses a separate drywell to handle greywater we presume that the owners discovered that their septic system, or at least its leach field, was of limited capacity or life.
Gray water systems may also be used to conserve and recycle water in areas of limited water supply. The graywater filter basin and graywater filter shown above are discussed at FILTERS SEPTIC & GREYWATER
Gray water is usually water from building drains other than toilets, such as water from a laundry system, sink, or shower, and effluent from sump pumps. Other site gray water (or greywater) which is sometimes preserved and used at a building includes rainwater or roof runoff. Some writers include groundwater in the greywater category. I disagree, though greywater disposal systems may benefit the environment by replenishing groundwater.
Greywater does not contain human waste products. Therefore when it is disposed-of on-site, it does not need to be treated to the same extent as is required for sewage or "black water". In fact, soil filtration and soil biomat treatment of greywater can produce very clean water for ultimate discharge into the environment. Therefore building code requirements for on-site disposal of grey water are less strict. However in most jurisdictions it is illegal to simply dispose of greywater by dumping it on the ground surface. Some treatment and filtering such as that provided by a drywell will be required.
For building sites where there is limited space for septic "black water" disposal and treatment, one can install piping and equipment separate the gray water from black water (human waste) - a step which reduces the needed size of the septic system. (Space will still be needed for graywater handling).
A second reason that some property owners install graywater handling systems is a shortage of potable water or the need to conserve and recycle water for re-use. In dry areas where there are limitations on the water supply, filtering and treating graywater can permit its use for watering lawns or crops as well as for flushing toilets. This approach serves two goals, both disposing of onsite graywater and supplying water for crops or shrubs.
A typical graywater system can save 50 to 100 gallons of water a day, or even more, depending on the level and types of water usage in a building. Even homes connected to a municipal water supply benefit from a gray water system as by recycling water for re-use the building owners save on their water bill.
The following sample greywater system specification is from: New York State Appendix 75-A.10 Other systems. Other U.S. state's laws and specifications regulating greywater systems are listed below.
(5) Greywater Systems
Greywater [grey water, gray water] systems shall be designed upon a flow of 75 gpd/bedroom and meet all the criteria previously discussed for treatment of household wastewater.
[DF NOTE: Grey water is water that does not include sewage, including water from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities.]
Here we outline a variety graywater products, systems, and designs used to conserve water, re-use or recycle water, reduce water use, or to store and re-use graywater. Links to in-depth articles about these products and systems are provided below. See WATER SOURCE ALTERNATIVES for details.
Question: Can I Use a "Packaged" Greywater System to Solve my Septic System Worry?
I purchased a home that had a septic system that is not in great shape. To take some of the strain off of the septic system I decided to put in a graywater system. I was looking at a packaged "ready to go" system that includes a bank of mesh filters and a pump enclosed in a plastic shell.
I wanted to see your thoughts on it. Can you recommend an inexpensive system? - C.M. (California)
Reply: Compare a Greywater Diversion Device and a Conventional Greywater Drywall
An example of a packaged grey water system is the Aqua2use greywater system that is described by Water Wise Group, its distributor in the U.S., as the "most efficient and advanced greywater diversion device available".
A typical greywater diversion system provides a greywater receiving filter-tank or pumping chamber, a cascade of greywater filter materials and greywater pump itself, perhaps with integrated controls that operate the pump.
Remy Sabiani from Water Wise Group adds: "With its Multi Stage Filtration system, the Aqua2use makes the greywater suitable to use with a drip irrigation system. it also includes two magnetic micro floats that sense the water level, and automatically control the pump."
But without more information about your water usage, site characteristics, and irrigation needs, we are not sure it's what you need. Let's look at some details.
Adding up the Components & Costs of a Greywater Diversion System
At under $650. for a packaged "ready-to-go" greywater system dispersion device itself, that cost is less than the excavation, piping, and installation of a conventional drywell. To that you'll need to add the cost of the greywater drip irrigation piping and its installation, and you may need to add the cost of a larger receiving tank, filter and tank maintenance if your daily surges in water usage are larger than the greywater diversion system's tank and piping can absorb in short intervals.
You also will need to add the cost of changing existing home drain piping to divert graywater from baths and kitchen or at least the laundry system into a separate drain connected to the greywater diversion system.
A graywater system produces water that can be used to irrigate a lawn or garden (but not a vegetable garden) - by filtering greywater and feeding it into a drip irrigation system, and at the same time it relieves the septic system drainfield of having to absorb that same water volume - presuming your drip irrigation tubing is placing the water somewhere else.
Greywater Distribution System Site Factors
Also depending on how you are using your building plumbing system, and other factors like your site size and terrain slope, diameter and length of the drip piping system, the rate at which the graywater treatment pump and filter can accept and push through graywater may be more limited than a conventional drywell that by comparison has no trouble accepting a surge of graywater and disposing of it more slowly into the surrounding soil.
Take a look at your site shape, slope, and piping to see how easily you can separate off graywater draining from sinks, showers, tubs, laundry. You might find that the cost of those plumbing changes is also substantial when you are changing an existing home (as opposed to planning for graywater separation in new construction).
Take a look at the Aqua2Use Pump Curve and you'll see that if there is substantial head pressure (in feet) the flow rate in GPM that the system handles is slowed.
Greywater Distribution & Local Codes
In California where you are located, you can install a graywater system that accepts just water from an individual clothes washing machine without having to obtain a permit. (California Greywater Regulations) That's a simple installation that can reduce the load on your septic system drainfield, similar to using a conventional drywell for the same purpose, but adding filters and a pump and piping to dispose of the graywater on your property.
Watch out: most national and local plumbing codes do not permit discharge of grey water directly onto the ground surface, so simply spraying grey water over the ground like from a lawn sprinkler is probably not going to be accepted in your area. But to complicate this worry further, treated effluent from an aerobic septic treatment unit (ATU) may be allowed to be distributed by above-ground sprinkler systems, for example in some Texas communities. What's the difference? Probably the level of phosphates or detergents found in washing machine grey water.
Considering a Conventional Drywell for Greywater Disposal
But the costs of in house plumbing changes (usually high if you are including graywater from other sinks, tubs, showers) plus cost of the drip line installation (may be high) makes a simpler approach: connect the building laundry sink/washer and maybe dishwasher to a separate conventional drywell, worth considering, especially if you do not need to use the water for irrigation.
All of those costs combined with attention to your starting objective: relieve water load on a drainfield, suggest that you should also consider a simpler and more conventional drywell with an inlet filter to trap lint and large debris. See FILTERS SEPTIC & GREYWATER .
If your soils have reasonable percolation rate, the drywell will handle a large volume of graywater without going to the added site-wide excavation to put in drip lines. No pumps or electricity are needed if you can drain graywater directly to the drywell by gravity.
Don't Forget to Care for the Septic Tank and Drainfields
Finally, your wish to reduce the load on the septic system by separating graywater presumes that it is the drainfield of your system that is limited, old or failing. But you should also have the septic tank pumped and inspected. It may need baffles, it may be damaged or leaky, it could have an unsafe cover, it may be small and require frequent pumping. And inspect the existing drainfield and D-box to see if there are alternate drainfield lines that can be switched into use, and to confirm that effluent is indeed entering all of the existing drainfield lines - all considerations that are very important in extending the life of the drainfield.
In sum, if you have reason to need and want a drip irrigation system anyway, say for lawn, plantings, or decorative (non-edibles) garden, and especially if you are in an area of limited water supply or drought restrictions, then you could use the graywater system but you'll need to get a more realistic cost estimate by including not just the graywater filter, tank, and pump but also the entire drip irrigation system. But if all you want is to relieve the liquid load on your drainfield a drywell may be a simpler approach that I recommend you consider. It too can handle larger surges of graywater.
Disinfection Requirements for Grey Water Prior to Re-Use
Winward (2008) points out that grey water filtration and then disinfection can be required before grey water an be re-used in some applications.
Graywater System Regulations for various U.S. States
Graywater System Products, Greywater Diversion Systems, Pumps, Tanks, Books and Design Specifications For Graywater Systems
Image at left illlustrates GreyLink's self-cleaning greywater filter. [Click to enlarge any image]
You may find that you are better off providing a large cistern type storage tank.
Use of large water storage cisterns has been a common practice for thousands of years and continues in modern use with plastic or fiberglass water storage tanks into which rainwater or in some areas even surface runoff may be channeled for future use.
See the rainwater collection and storage tank we show at RAINWATER STORAGE CISTERNS) for collecting and storing as much rainwater as possible when rainy weather occurs.
Graywater Collection Methods to Obtain Additional Water Supply
What most people do, as you will see in our article above, is make use of graywater, usually filtered, sometimes treated.
You might find that rainwater collection in areas where rainfall is plentiful in some seasons, or graywater use, are more economical for your use, and that condensation is more costly to operate and less productive in quantity unless you design a cheap, very large solar condensing operation.
Continue reading at WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
At CISTERN CONSTRUCTION GUIDE we illustrate a combination of rainwater collection and graywater collection, diversion, re-use on a home built in an area of water scarcity.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Does Washington State prohibit graywater systems?
I am having issues with my septic system and the service that has started my job is telling me that in Washington State it is a state law that we cannot use Grey Water systems. Do you happen to know anything about that? I am very interested in adding a system like yours for my home. Please let me know. Thank you - D.W. 5/15/2014
Washington State does not prohibit graywater re-use but does specify guidelines and the state allows local jurisdictions to enforce more strict regulation. Indeed the state has published various studies and guidelines.
Chapter 246-274 WAC sets requirements for using greywater for subsurface irrigation. The rule took effect on July 31, 2011. Local health jurisdictions (LHJs) have three years to implement it. (LHJs may adopt more stringent requirements than those in the state rule.) However, if they are unable to adjust resources to implement and enforce this chapter, the provisions of chapter 246-272A WAC shall continue to apply to greywater reuse for subsurface irrigation. Check with your LHJ to learn if greywater reuse under chapter 246-274 WAC is allowed or ask them how to support that effort if it is not allowed yet.
Watch out: Washington State authorities (and the WA law), in discussing the re-use of graywater and the design of graywater systems does make clear that installing a graywater re-use sysem does not exclude septic systems (onsite wastewater disposal systems or soakawy beds or soakpits depending on where you live) from meeting other state requirements for those systems.
In other words, if your septic system needs a new drainfield, it will still need one after installing a graywater re-use system. However on occasion one can extend the life of a septic drainfield by reducing the water load on it by routing graywater elsewhere.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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